Tuesday Feature episode 31: Franciska De Vries

In episode 31 of the Tuesday Feature we question Franciska about all things soil.


 

Please can you briefly explain your research in simple terms?

I look at how plants and soils interact. Plants pump carbon into the soil and there are lots of microbes and other organisms in the soils which use this carbon to perform important processes, they release nutrients for plants to use and I study how that works. Mainly I look at how feedbacks and processes respond to climate change and land-use change.

How does this research benefit the general public?

It’s important to know how ecosystems will respond to climate change and other future changes such as land-use change. Ecosystems provide valuable functions and deliver important services such as food production and carbon sequestration for climate mitigation.  We look at how soils will be able to continue under climate change which underpins society and human life. We need to eat and food comes from the soil in one way or another!

How did you first become interested in soils?

When I was doing my undergraduate degree at Wageningen University in the Netherlands I had a really good lecturer who gave particularly interesting lectures on soil biodiversity,  I guess it was from there that I discovered how interesting soil science really is. I just really wanted to learn more!

Did you have any science heroes growing up? Who inspired you?

I went to study environmental studies for my undergraduate degree because I wanted to save the world. I wanted to be a scientist on a green peace ship so it actually turned out all differently. I didn’t really have a big hero – I just wanted to save the world.

How has working in Manchester helped you?

Massively – it’s just a really inspiring environment and there are a lot of very good people that are really supportive in anything you want to do. I have had a lot of support; particularly for my grant applications and it really is a great place to work.

What do you do outside of work?

I do a lot of sports: I like to mountain bike, run and climb. Sport is kind of in the background now because I have a one year old that takes up all my time.

 

Faculty Historian awarded Wellcome Trust 5 year research grant

Historian of science and medicine Dr Duncan Wilson has been awarded a 5 year fellowship by the Wellcome Trust to fund research into considerations of human health in the history of animal conservation.
duncanDr Wilson, whose previous work examined the history of bioethics, will look at why scientists increasingly drew connections between species loss and human health from the 1940s onwards. He will focus on how this viewpoint led to ethical debates about which species we should prioritise in conservation programmes, which influenced and continues to influence the work of scientists working across universities, parks and zoos.

When asked about the project, Wilson describes:

‘A striking feature in coverage of epidemics like Ebola today are claims that increasing rates of species loss are, to quote the International Union for the Conservation of Nature “the leading driver of disease emergence in humans”. Scientists warn that species loss through hunting, habit loss and climate change causes viruses to “spill over” into humans and eradicates potential medicines.

These warnings link our health to the fate of endangered animals and raise difficult questions about which species we should preserve’.

‘Yet despite its importance for understandings of our relation to the natural world, we do not understand why this view of species loss emerged and became influential. My new project will show how scientists in the 1940s first drew on ecology to argue that extinction threatened human health. I will detail how these claims underpinned the work of conservation organisations, national parks and zoos, and will isolate the professional and ethical concerns that led scientists to prioritise certain approaches and animals.

Wilson summarises:

‘Given the dire warnings about the rate and consequences of species loss today, with up to half of all  plant and animal species predicted to become extinct by 2100, this project is vital for helping us reflect on the changing connections between human and animal health, and on why we value some animals over others’.